Gwanaksan hermitageFriday turned out to be one of Korea’s many national holidays, and with the more temperate autumn weather finally upon us we decided to go on a hike up one of Seoul’s many mountains (admittedly, many people would consider the smaller ones hills). After some deliberation regarding likely crowd levels and ease of ascent, we settled on Gwanaksan (관악산, literally “hat-shaped peak”) – a relatively steep 632 m climb on the southern city limits, easily accessible by bus from Seoul National University.

All concerns about not being able to find the right route vanished as soon as we stepped off the bus – we were whisked onto the trail with throngs of people out enjoying the holiday, past stalls selling hiking equipment and snacks, and quickly found ourselves on a gently rising path next to a stream and the university campus. We had enough time to appreciate the lack of effort required, and then the trail turned almost vertical and we were labouring up the mountainside proper. Practically all of the ascent was in the last few hundred metres, but after a couple of pauses to get our legs back under control we popped out onto the saddle between two peaks and found a couple of enterprising hikers selling food and water for five times their sea-level price (we bought some water immediately).

Gwanaksan (2)Up on the summit, we paused for a quick lunch of cheese and bagels we’d lugged up with us and then struck out for the descent back to a different part of Seoul. On reaching the summit marker stone and hermitage (too precarious to visit), we found a small cafe doing a roaring trade with hungry hikers and managed to squeeze our way through onto the ridge trail. This turned out to be incredibly dangerous, with many a steep drop and single-person path – there were guide ropes, but these were rendered slightly less effective by impatient people pushing their way through or blazing new trails on less even ground.

Gwanaksan (1)After asking directions and taking note of the few signposts, we re-entered the forested area, went through an extensive old military installation with countless tunnel entrances and empty gun emplacements, and made it back to the concrete- and tarmac-covered city before dark. We’d deliberately taken the longer route so as to be closer to Gangnam when we finished, and the day was topped off with typically excellent board games, burritos, ice cream and drinks.